Memorable Inebriation

Temperatures in Tampere, Finland—roughly 180km (112 miles) north of Helsinki—had been forecast to reach 30°C (86°F) today, according to an online report in the Helsinki Times. That temperature compares to “normal” highs in June of 18°C (65°F); the normal high during July, the hottest month of the year in Finland, is 21°C (70°F).  As I write this (at about 1:00 pm in Tampere), the temperature reported online is 25°C (77°F); the predicted high, according to, will be reached in about five hours, when thermometers are expected to register 27°C (80°F). Regardless of the actual peak temperature today, Tampere will be considerably warmer than “normal” today. If I were ask a U.S. nationalist to comment about the high temperature, I would expect the response to be something like, “Who cares?” Because, you know, only the USA matters; Americans, who live in the center of the universe, where we rightfully dismiss as irrelevant anyone anywhere else. I hope the casual reader realizes the sarcasm that soaks that sentence.

If all internal combustion engines and other producers of gases and particulate matter harmful to the atmosphere were to be permanently silenced today, I wonder whether the planet’s climate would recover by the end of this century? I will never have the definitive answer to my question, of course. I think one likely result of the cessation of those devices would be mass starvation. We have grown dependent on machinery for survival. Perhaps Ted Kacsynski had some good points…well of course he did? But his methods of expressing his arguments were utterly inappropriate. Yet even if he had used his obviously superior intellect to craft persuasive messages about the dangers of modern technology and societal “advances,” he would have found a largely unreceptive audience. Life today is too easy to accept that life today is too easy. Let me emphasize that:

Life today is too easy to accept that life today is too easy.

Is that message as clear as I would like it to be? I do not know. And maybe I do not care. At least not much. Not enough, anyway, to do anything about it. We shall continue kicking the ball down the road to the next generation and the next and the next until…lo and behold, the ball will burst and shrivel into dust. And that will be that. I’m nothing if I’m not a non-optimist, eh? Unravel that unnecessarily convoluted message.


True artists, I think, have a vision of the products that will result from their efforts. A sculptor envisions the finished statue when he begins working on it. A painter sees the canvas as it will appear when her work with the oils and brushes and palate knives is complete. A composer hears the melody before the first note is committed to the music.

Or maybe not. Perhaps, even though I do not have a clear idea in my mind of the completed story or article or poem before I begin to write, I can still call myself an artist. Even though I do not have an image of the finished product in mind when I start stringing a set of beads, I am still being creative. Hmm. Does being creative necessarily equate to being an artist? I think that depends on how one defines the term, “artist.” And, looking back at the way I began documenting my thoughts, exactly what I mean by “true artist.” If one is an artist, but not a true artist, is one an artificial artist. How does one become a  true artist? Or does one not become a true artist but, instead, is either born a true artist or not. Certainly, some people are imbued with innate creativity and attendant capabilities that can be cultivated and perfected through experience and practice. Others, though, may not be innately talented but, with sufficient time and effort, can perfect artistic capabilities. Some people might call the latter artists mere technicians. I am thinking here of people who groom themselves to replicate the skills of true artists, but who do not possess the core qualities that one finds in actual, born artists.

As is the case with most subjects, given enough time to mull over the matter, I could forcefully argue (in writing, but probably not so much orally) every perspective. I view that capability as both a talent and a curse; it is a curse because I can never be fully, completely, entirely certain of which argument represents my true feelings. “I see your point of view” is both a good way to subsequently introduce one’s disagreement with someone else’s perspective and a way to see the possibilities in another’s ideas and the flaws in one’s own viewpoints. Ach! Looking at an issue from various angles tends to expose the arrogance of one’s own forceful certainty.


A kiss, even an innocent “peck,” can either conceal or reveal the underlying passions that drive the urge to make a connection. Context is the key, as so often it is.  Context is crucial, for example, in examining the facts surrounding a shooting or stabbing or other kind of violent encounter. Was the act prompted by rage? By fear? By raw, calm, deliberate hatred? Was the act planned, or did it erupt suddenly in response to the circumstances surrounding it? Why am I comparing a kiss with an assault? A kiss was just a convenient place to start. It could just as easily have been a handshake; a limp handshake versus a firm grip can be interpreted differently, depending on the circumstances. Context. I have an unquenchable fascination with context. And the innumerable points along a spectrum of almost any kind; from love to hatred and from agony to joy and from fascination to boredom…and on and on. Casual joviality can disguise passionate interest. Or it could mask disdain. A smile is not just a smile. A smile is the fruit of its context; the true story of a smile can be found in exploring the context that produced it.

These are the kinds of things that  swirl in my mind at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. or…almost all the time. I sometimes attribute the oddities of my thoughts to my tendency to store away random “stuff” in my mind and then, later, to write about it. But more often, I think as I write; or vice versa. I am not sure whether writing is what is what produces my thoughts or whether my thoughts trigger me to write about them. It should be easy to distinguish between which comes first, but I do not find it so easy; it’s as if writing and thinking are one in the same. Which is why I often say I think through my fingers.

Several years ago, I got involved in some joint writing exercises with a woman I first met online (I do not recall just how). In one such exercise, we each added a sentence to a sentence written by the other. In this particular instance, the story involved two strangers (a man and a woman) meeting on a train. The female writer’s approach to the interactions between the two strangers was slow and deliberate. Mine was fast and reckless. The radically different perspectives sank the story long before it was ever written. Despite the fact that our writing exercise went up in flames, we met later a few times in person. My late wife and I visited with her in New York twice…or was it three times? Our writing relationship, like our face-to-face relationship, was platonic. But I remember thinking (and still think) a long-distance, electronic-communications-supported relationship can become romantic. In fact, there are books and stories and films about such romantic relationships. Yet I never found those stories believable; not in the least. But someone close to me met a man online who became her second husband. I cling to my disbelief despite evidence to the contrary. I realize, of course, that acknowledging the incorrectness of my belief while holding it close and asserting its rectitude, may be a sign of insanity. But not necessarily. I’d like to think it is just a simple flaw in my neural circuits; a flaw that can be repaired with a little emotional glue or years of therapy.


In two hours, I will join a group of aging Unitarian Universalist men for random conversations over a meal. This gathering, which will take place in the back room of a homely little diner, is a weekly affair, though I miss it rather often. Twice, in my absence, the group provided fodder for the church minister’s sermons and/or interactions with members of the church’s congregation. I have wondered, since hearing of those incidents, whether my absence was the key to the production of that fodder. I doubt it, actually. I rarely say much during these gatherings. I am more of a listener than a talker. I absorb what I hear. I speak only to engage in polite conversation and when I have something of consequence to say, which is extremely rare. Most of my thoughts, if I shared them, would bore the others. Though I am comfortable with my day-to-day life and find it interesting and exciting most of the time, others might find it deadly dull. So I tend not to talk much. Plus, of course, I am inherently a little shy. I have overcome most of the limitation of the shyness of my childhood and young adulthood, but I remain fairly quiet except in the company of people close to me. Why am I writing this? I have no idea. My fingers are doing the work and I am simply letting them do what they will.


It is past time for me to shower and shave and otherwise prepare for the day. If I could do something to keep my hair from looking oily and unkempt without daily shampooing, I probably would shower only once every two or three days, which is the frequency recommended by some physicians who decry the damage done to the skin by daily showering. But my hair, if not washed every day, can make me look dirty, homeless, and drunk. I do not relish meeting with people who assume, incorrectly, that I am drunk at 8:30 in the morning. I would not relish meeting with people who correctly assumed I was drunk at 8:30 in the morning, either. Fortunately, I have not been drunk at 8:30 in the morning since the time, when I was about 26 years old, I flew home to Houston from Chicago after working at a multi-day conference. A group of the staff responsible for the conference took an early morning flight home. All of us started drinking bloody marys before boarding and continued during the flight. I am sure the flight attendants happily would have ejected at thirty thousand feet, mid-flight.

The diner does not serve alcohol, so there’s no danger of inebriation this morning. That notwithstanding, I will entitle this post Memorable Inebriation.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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